The University of Alabama at Birmingham has won two consecutive bowl games heading into this season. Though 2022 was a tough year for UAB, the Blazers still managed a 7-6 final record including a bowl win.
They return Conference USA second-team running back Jermaine Brown Jr., who ran for 948 yards with a healthy 5.1 yards per carry average. The leader for them will be quarterback Jacob Zeno, but he only started two games last year after transferring from Baylor. Running backs will benefit from the addition of Isaiah Jacobs, a highly regarded junior college transfer (and brother of the Las Vegas Raiders' Josh Jacobs).
But all things begin with UAB's coach. You may have heard of him.
The Dilfer Debut at UAB
As a former pro quarterback, Trent Dilfer brings weight to his role as first-year head coach. Also, he can use his Super Bowl ring to inspire the American Athletic Conference football team. If you've been up at 5 a.m. for practices every summer since you were 6, it doesn't seem corny at all to use a ring like that as motivation.
Only a handful of great QBs end up as college head coaches. Kliff Kingsbury, Scott Frost and Jim Harbaugh are among the most recognized college coaches. The most obvious Super Bowl-winning quarterback as a college head coach was Doug Williams. His record in 1998- 2003 was 52-18, leading Grambling State — a Football Championship Subdivision historically Black college/university — back to prominence.
Keeping a Stout Defense
On defense, top Blazers cornerback Mac McWilliams returns, but this year's defense is projected to be weaker. Among the players who have transferred are Antavious Woody, a former four-star recruit from Florida State, along with Brian Mayes and James Smyre, two-star recruits according to Rivals.com. Last year's defense held opponents to only 23.4 points per game, which is exceptional. The unresolved matter is whether University of Texas at San Antonio, Memphis, Tulane and mammoth Georgia will dominate UAB to the extent that it shatters their morale for future games.
The top recruits for the offense consist of wide receiver Brandon Buckhaulter, a three-star prospect according to Rivals.com, along with wide receiver Dazalin Worsham, quarterback Landry Lyddy and wide receiver Malachi Holt-Bennett, who are also three-star recruits. Last year, UAB averaged 30.1 points a game, but it lost more in the transfer portal than it gained.
For UAB's inaugural season in the AAC, there is a very fluid and difficult-to-predict schedule. Three of the four strongest football teams departed the AAC last year, but the six coming in from Conference USA are traditionally strong. Two difficult road games are against Georgia and Tulane, teams that were in New Year's Six bowls. But UAB hosts Florida Atlantic and Temple, both struggling programs in 2022 that traditionally underperform on the road. If UAB succeeds, it can take at least two to three wins into a more palatable October. UAB is hosting a predicted weak University of South Florida and Memphis, and then traveling to UTSA. If they handle business like that, they could win and make a bowl by performing well in November. With this schedule, it definitely will take two to three wins in November to make a bowl.
Fan facts: Weeks 1, 2 and 3 will be on ESPN+, and Week 11 at Navy will be on CBS Sports nationwide. Protective Stadium is the home venue for UAB games. It's considered one of the top stadiums in the AAC.
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